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Armendariz brings international perspective to food security initiative

Kaitlyn Rule '19
MONMOUTH, Ill. — In his recent inauguration remarks, Monmouth College president Clarence Wyatt said the liberal arts could really be called the “liberating arts – an educational experience that frees us to anticipate and respond to ever-more rapid change.”

New assistant professor Ramses Armendariz, who has been tasked with addressing the issue of food security as a member of the college’s new Triad program, would agree with that statement.

“If there’s something that Monmouth can leave for the rest of the world, it’s trying to solve problems using the power of the liberal arts,” said Armendariz, who recently defended his dissertation for his Ph.D. in international trade from the University of Minnesota.

He described the Triad program, which focuses three disciplines on a single issue, as “very useful. Only good can come from it. It is a very good investment by Monmouth College.”

Armendariz will cover food security from the political economy and commerce perspective, while two other Monmouth faculty members will approach the topic from their disciplines of biology and anthropology.

“One problem we face when we work with global food security is the dimensions involved,” he said. “For instance, it goes beyond satisfying nutritional goals in people’s diets. It also implies preserving cultural aspects related with food,” such as a society that doesn’t consider pork to be food or a community that has lived for generations growing grapes.

Armendariz said he acquired his scholarly interest in food security “by accident.”

“Initially, I was studying how international trade shaped the size distribution of firms in different industries,” he said. “For instance, even today, we do not know why many small firms flourish when there is a trade liberalization in different industries, especially when larger firms have lower production costs and lower costs to export.”

Instead of focusing on production costs, Armendariz decided to study the demand side and developed a theory trying to explain the phenomenon.

“However, my theory was not explaining this element of international trade,” he said. “Instead, it was predicting how poor people make their consumption decisions when they barely meet their caloric intake. This accident changed my research agenda towards food security.”

His main plan at Monmouth is to teach how to design and implement economic policies that deal with malnutrition.

“I will let students know what projects have been implemented to eradicate calorie deprivation, such as increasing the intake of vitamins, minerals and protein, reducing obesity, etc., then attempt to design innovative policies that could potentially solve these problems.”

Armendariz said he knew he wanted to become a professor while studying at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, where he was able to get his start in teaching by filling in for professors during economics lab sessions. He received his bachelor’s degree in economic policies in Mexico, then went to the Czech Republic as an exchange student before attending the University of Minnesota.

“At a large school, most undergraduate classes are taught by graduate students, so I was able to teach four more years at Minnesota and gain more experience while obtaining my degree,” he said.

After studying economic policies and globalization in three countries and on two continents, Armendariz believes he’s now found just the right fit. The new professor is not only impressed by the college’s food security initiative, but also by the campus community he’s joined.

“Before I even arrived here, my colleagues made sure my transition was going smoothly in every aspect,” he said. “They were ready to help unload boxes, help get teaching supplies, and introduce me to the teaching style here at Monmouth.” Not only has the faculty helped make Armendariz’s move easier, but so has the local community. His landlord told him about the history of Monmouth, where the good local restaurants are, and whom to talk to when he needed something.

When Armendariz is not teaching or grading assignments, he enjoys distance running and is currently training to compete in the Chicago Marathon in October. He also likes to watch football, recalling going with friends to watch Monday Night Football games that were shown in movie theaters in Mexico.pasting